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Telescope kits from SPIE help build awareness of optics

Technology is 400 years old and still advancing

01 May 2009

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- Telescope kits provided by SPIE are helping students in many parts of the world to gain a better understanding of optics, and helping to mark the 400th anniversary of the telescope.

SPIE Fellow Zohra Ben Lakhdar, a professor of physics at Tunis Univ., will use the kits in two workshops in Tunisia this year.

The telescope kits will also be among activities this month during a "Science and Technology Day" sponsored by the Los Angeles (California) African American Engineers Professional Employees Association (AAEPEA).

SPIE Student Chapters around the world have received kits and training on how to teach the basic concepts of refraction and geometric optics to young students. Numerous outreach events led by chapters were held this spring. The Univ. of Central Florida hosted a 250-student outreach event Students built telescopes at a Univ. of Texas at Austin SPIE Student Chapter eventfor "Expanding Your Horizons," a program to get girls involved in science and technology. The "Fun with Optics" event sponsored by the SPIE Student Chapter at the Univ. of Texas at Austin used SPIE's telescope kits as a way to explore properties of light with local Austin students.

The build-your-own telescope kit provided by SPIE helps demonstrate basic optics principles through a hands-on experience in constructing a 16X refracting telescope. While the components of the telescope are simple -- two cardboard tubes, some foam, plastic end caps, and two small plano-convex plastic lenses -- the telescope they create is surprisingly effective.

"Optics has been an important field since antiquity, of interest to all people and at each age," Ben Lakhdar said. "Through optics we can observe, explain, and understand our environment, investigate the sky, and make simple experiments. Optics helps to open the mind." Ben Lakhdar, winner of the 2005 L'Oreal-UNESCO Award Laureate for Africa for women in science, maintains a commitment to bringing science to the everyday person as well as to her university students.

The telescope-building activity is particularly timely, as 2009 marks the 400th anniversary of the invention of the telescope, noted Barbara Darnell, Chair of the SPIE Education Committee.

"Building a telescope is an excellent and very accessible way to teach the principles of optics, and to help draw awareness to optics and photonics technologies," Darnell said. "SPIE is very pleased to support educational programs such as this. We share the sponsors' commitment to introducing students to career possibilities in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics and to inspiring and informing the next generation of problem-solvers, inventors, and creators of better ways of living."

Encouraging students to explore these fields is vital for the future and a top priority for science and technology professionals as well as educators.

"For the United States to remain a technical leader, we need to tap into and stimulate the minds of many more young people, especially those in underserved communities," said Michael Simpson of the AAEPEA in Los Angeles. “We see the creativity of young people in music and art, and would like to tap into that potential to lead the technological world.”

The telescope anniversary year has been declared the International Year of Astronomy 2009, a global effort initiated by the International Astronomical Union and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). Read more about local activities around the world and the legacy and applications of the telescope on the organization's website: www.astronomy2009.org/.

SPIE will celebrate telescope technology and advances at the SPIE Optics and Photonics symposium in August. More information is available on the event website: spie.org/x13188.xml#iya2.

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. Serving more than 188,000 constituents from 138 countries, the Society advances emerging technologies through interdisciplinary information exchange, continuing education, publications, patent precedent, and career and professional growth. SPIE annually organizes and sponsors approximately 25 major technical forums, exhibitions, and education programs in North America, Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific. In 2008, the Society provided $1.9 million for scholarships, grants, and other activities supporting research and education around the world. For more information, visit SPIE.org.

Photo caption: Above, students built telescopes at a Univ. of Texas at Austin SPIE Student Chapter event


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Amy Nelson, Public Relations Manager
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